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Thursday, 8 March 1973
Page: 370


Mr GORTON (Higgins) - A number of us in this House have had experience of the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) making speeches when he has arguments in which he believes and he has been able to make a good case. I do not think anybody who has heard him today would not realise that he has no arguments in which he has believed and as a result he has made an extremely bad case. Indeed, he has not tried even to discuss the point of this matter which is before us, except in one way in which he showed the necessity for the proposal of this matter for discussion. He read out a series of contracts which he questioned in. his own mind on the grounds of quality and price. I do not believe that suggested criticism is valid for a moment. But what is keen and what comes out of this is that if what he proposes to bring in is brought in you could not any longer be able to question a contract on the grounds of quality and price because his reply would be: 'Ah, but the trade union movement has good relationships with the contractor. I say so and that is all that matters.'

Indeed, he brought out in some way the whole point of this discussion. What we are saying now must not and cannot be construed, as he tried to construe it, into an attack on any individual Minister and into an attack on any individual public servant. That is certainly not in our minds. But we do say this: When there is introduced into the awarding of contracts a right of an individual Minister to decide not on quality, not on price, not on ability to supply but on his own judgment of whether a union likes a firm or not, then we say that there is created an opportunity for graft, for bribery and for corruption of a kind we have not seen in Australia since the days of the Rum Rebellion.

Again this is not directed at any individual - certainly not Senator Cavanagh, certainly not the Minister. But all history shows that if an opportunity for corruption is created then sooner or later some man or another, some

Minister or another, some public servant or another will be tempted to take advantage of that opportunity and some will fall into that temptation. That is what is provided in the rules now to be laid down. We are asked to leave the question of deciding contracts on quality and price and have, amongst other things - and this is the really dangerous thing - a decision by the Minister on whether the contractor's relationship with the trade union movement is good or not.

Let us have a look at what this involves. First of all, what is the trade union movement? Is it the Australian Council of Trade Unions? Is it an organiser for a particular union, a secretary of a particular union, a shop steward? It is not defined. It is clearly any member of a trade union who does not like a firm, who could go to the Minister and say: 'This firm is unfair to my union. Our relationship with it is not good.' There is no way in which anybody can question that. Then it becomes a matter for the Minister to form his own judgment, in secret, in his own mind, without giving any reasons - merely saying: 'I agree that the relationship is not good and therefore this man will not get the contract which on terms of quality, ability, supply and price he should get.'

If any firm in Australia breaks the industrial law, then it ought to be prosecuted under the law and have an opportunity to defend itself before an independent arbitrator or judge in public. If it has broken the law it should well be punished in that way. If it has not broken the law it should not be punished in any way. It should not be subject to financial fines and punitive measures by anybody, by any court, and, more importantly, it should not be subject to punitive measures by one man without charges having been brought, without any chance to defend himself or the firm - indeed, quite possibly unknowing that he is being punished because it is a decision of the Minister sitting in his own office.

What opportunities there are in this innovation. There are opportunities for corruption on many levels. First there is the opportunity for the head of a firm to say to the union organiser with whom he is having some difference of opinion and who might well have said to him: 'Unless you do what I want I will tell the Minister that our relations are not good and you will not get any more contracts' - that he-


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Ha!


Mr GORTON - Well, this is inherent in this proposal - my word it is. The Minister shakes his head because he does not like us bringing out the actual inherent problems in this whole proposal. Are you, Mr Deputy Speaker, or is anybody else going to say that a head of a firm wanting government contracts now or in the future, threatened in this way by somebody with a position in the trade union movement, will not stop and think and say: 'Well, it does say that the Minister can decide whether my relationships with the union are good or not. The union representative said he will go to the Minister and say that the relationships are bad. He may well cost me the contract which I would otherwise get on past criteria applied.' This must affect his judgment. It could well in some cases result in a pecuniary offer so that that complaint would not be made. There could be some employers, and I emphasise some employers, who for some reason that they did not quite understand were not getting the government contracts awarded which they felt they ought to be getting because they knew their prices and quality were good and they knew they had had contracts in the past, who would wonder whether it might not be a good idea to approach not a Minister, not a public servant, but some representative of the Labor Party in their area and say: Look, try to find out what is wrong here, would you? After all, is there a branch in your electorate that would like a good solid contribution from my firm to help with electoral matters?' The opportunity is there. I would like to think it would be taken advantage of by almost none. But the history of government requires that opportunities for this kind of thing should not ever be there.

There is the final chance of a contractor seeking a contract, not quite understanding why he does not get it, going to inquire of the Minister whether the reason why he did not get it was perhaps because somebody had said his relationships with the union were bad. The opportunity is then there for those relationships to be greatly improved by a donation slipped into an open drawer. I may say at this point that the Minister for Labour was quite wrong in suggesting that there was some attack on public servants in this matter, in the awarding of contracts. If there was any attack it has been made by Senator Cavanagh, the Minister in another place, who has publicly stated that he is going to take over the decision of what contracts should be awarded from the public servants who previously decided what contracts should be or should not be made. This is where, if anywhere, there is this attack. But, Mr Deputy Speaker, in the past before we decided the criteria on which contracts should be let there were bad days when shoddy goods were supplied by contractors, when prices far too high were charged and when the public purse was pillaged. This occurred - and I speak of long ago, quite possibly in England rather than here - as a result of relationships between a Minister and a wealthy employer. It was necessary to see that the public purse was not pillaged, that the quality of work was high and that prices were kept down. For those reasons these criteria were introduced so that nobody would get favouritism. Only those who met that criteria would be. contractors to a government using public money. These criteria have been thrown out the window - not quite thrown out; they are still there certainly - but there is now an overriding matter. Now the Minister in a Star Court can decide whether a contract is awarded or not.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order!The right honourable member's time has expired.







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